Brian decided he was long overdue for a visit to his flagship agency. He gave Cynthia the heads up but no one else. Cynthia understood and gave him her blessings. Brian walked into Kinnetik like he owned the place then began to inspect every nook and cranny.
“You look like you were about to review the troops,” Cynthia commented as Brian entered her office and took a seat.
“Yeah, well, they’ve become too complacent.”
“That’s not true. They’ve all done great work; the first quarter numbers prove it,” Cynthia countered.
“Of course they have, but we can’t let it go to their heads. Advertising has made dramatic changes in the past ten years, we have to keep up. No, that’s wrong, we should be paving the road.”
“Whoa, I get it. Just don’t leave here today letting them think they’ve done a lousy job,” Cynthia cautioned.
“I won’t; promise,” Brian said as he held up his hand. “How is Gui doing?”
“He was pissed at first being with the artists but I think his attitude has changed,” Cynthia replied.
“Good. From what Shane told me, Gui was due for an attitude adjustment. I’m glad it’s happening. Let’s hope it’s changing in the right direction,” said Brian, pleased that he made the right decision. “I’m planning to stay in the Pitts for a few days so get used to my face.”
“How can I forget it,” Cynthia snarked then became serious. “Ben and Michael aren’t getting any closer, are they?” she asked, accurately translating the Brian speak.
“No, they’re not,” Brian stated with a heavy sigh. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do but I don’t want Michael to feel alone.” He stood to go to his own office.
“You’re a good man, Brian Kinney,” Cynthia called out as he was leaving.
“Shhh, don’t let anyone know,” he replied. He heard her chuckling as he walked out, nearly running into Teddy.
“Boss, why didn’t you tell me you were coming into town?” Ted said as he trailed after Brian.
“And have you warn the troops, it would’ve defeated the purpose,” Brian growled as he looked around his office. Without thinking he ran a finger across his desk and then across the sideboard in search of dust. He snorted, hung up his overcoat then booted up his computer.
An eyebrow arched.
“We recently upgraded,” Ted explained. “The old computers were wiped then donated,” Ted continued. Satisfied, Brian nodded then sat at his desk to get acquainted with his new machine.
“I’ll leave you to your work unless you need me for something,” Ted said before he left the office. Brian was about to wave him off then looked up.
“The bonuses look good, Bri. Do you want to tell them or should I?”
“Let’s do it together this afternoon around three. Let Cynthia know.”
“Sure thing, Bri,” Teddy said as he stepped out of Brian’s office.
“And Ted,” Brian began. Ted popped his head back in. “Thank you.”
Ted beamed a smile as he said, “You’re most welcome.” Brian waved him off then got back to playing with his new computer.
“Yo, shopkeep!” Brian called out as he smacked the counter. He winked at JR.
“Brian!” Michael called out as he ran into the main store. Michael had been taking inventory. He gave Brian a strong hug. “What brings you here?”
“Can’t a guy say hello to his oldest friend? And I have Kinnetik business to attend to. Besides, you left the lane without saying goodbye.”
“I was…in a hurry to get home,” Michael said without more explanation.
“Are you free for lunch?” Brian asked.
“Sure! But I don’t want to go to the diner,” Michael insisted.
“Okay,” Brian agreed knowing there was some sort of story behind Michael’s request. “How about Emm’s place?”
“Not there either,” Michael said with a scowl.
“All right.” Brian flicked his eyes toward JR; she just sadly shrugged her shoulders. “Uh, the Village diner?” Brian suggested in hopes that it too wasn’t off limits.
“That sounds great!” Michael crowed. “I’ll go get my coat,” Michael said as he ran to the back.
“What’s going on?” Brian whispered to JR.
“I’ll call you later,” she replied.
“Do you mind driving?” Michael asked his old friend as he stepped out from the back.
“Nope. It’ll be like old times,” Brian said as he draped his arm across Michael’s shoulders.
“Yeah, just minus the word, Faggots, spray painted on the side of the Jeep,” Michael deadpanned.
“Oh, I don’t know, Mikey, I’ve always embraced truth in advertising,” Brian said as they left the store.
When they got to the diner, Brian and Michael were quickly shown to a sunny table and handed menus. Brian ordered his turkey sandwich on whole wheat, hold the mayo, with a side salad and a coffee while Michael ordered a cheeseburger with all the trimmings. Brian stared for a moment but said nothing.
“So, Mikey, how’s it hanging?”
“A little to the left. If you mean the comic book store, I’m surprised your spy hasn’t updated you.”
“She doesn’t tell me everything.”
“Well, we’re doing just fine. The holiday season was a good one even though the weather was for shit. We’re okay.”
“It’s good to hear, Mikey,” Brian sincerely stated as he patted Michael’s hand. They sat in an awkward silence for a while. Brian recognized a few patrons and several of the wait staff. He nodded at a few.
“You never change,” Michael snarked.
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Does Justin know you’re up to your old tricks?”
“Michael, make sense before I leave.”
“The waiter, did you do him?” Michael asked with a nasty grin.
“Get a grip, Mikey, half the people in this place are Hunter’s graduates. You remember Hunter, your son, the master of social work. They either work here or in the Village shops.” Brian was tempted to tell Michael that if he got his ass more involved with Hunter, he might have recognized some of them as well.
The silence became deafening.
“Uh, how’s Ma? I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her either.”
“She and Carl are all right. We have the three of them over for dinner about once a week.”
“Three of them?” Michael asked, conveniently forgetting about Peter. Brian rolled his eyes and glared.
Lunch was delivered which saved them from further awkward moments.
“Michael, I have to ask. You read Ben’s book, didn’t you?”
“So, you know it’s not just about me. It’s about all of us.”
“Yeah, so what?”
“So why do you still blame the book for breaking up your marriage?”
“Because if Ben just stuck to teaching then none of this would have happened.”
“Michael, do you know how stupid that sounds.” Michael threw his napkin on the table about to run out of the diner. Brian stopped him. “Sit.”
Michael sat; he was exhausted. “I’m tired of everyone being against me,” he admitted.
“Who’s against you?”
“You are. So is Ma, and JR. Emmett thinks I’m wrong about everything. I don’t have anyone who’s on my side.”
“No one’s taking sides,” Brian insisted. Michael snorted. “Look, I won’t lie to you. Do I think you’ve handled this whole thing with Ben well? No, I don’t. You told everyone that you were seeing a counselor and you didn’t. You insisted that the book was written only about me and we know that’s not true. It’s not about taking sides, it’s about pointing out the facts. The fact is that Ben tried but you haven’t, and now it may be too late.”
“What do you mean, too late? Has he met someone?”
“No, he hasn’t. What I mean is that he still loves you but he’s not in love with you. And if you want him back you’re going to have to work very hard to get him to fall in love with you again.”
“And what if I still think he’s wrong?” Michael asked with defiance.
“Then I’d say get used to living on your own,” Brian said while signaling for the check. He paid the bill then drove Michael back to the comic book store.
“Michael, I’m going to stay in the Pitts for a couple of days on business. Call me if you want to do dinner,” Brian said as Michael climbed out of the Jeep. Michael nodded as Brian drove away.
“Schmidt!” Brian bellowed as he barged his way through the main doors. Everyone cringed.
“You bellowed, Boss.” Teddy hurried over as Brian peeled off his coat. Ted grabbed it before it hit the floor as he followed Brian to his office.
“Shut the door,” Brian commanded. “Sit.” Ted obliged. “I had lunch with Michael.”
“I gather it didn’t go well,” Teddy surmised.
Brian shook his head. “Nothing’s changed. Matter of fact, I think they’ve gotten worse. If I didn’t know any better, I’d be thinking that Michael is severely paranoid.”
“Not paranoid, just egotistical,” Ted offered. Brian nodded in agreement.
“What can we do? He’s so alone. He feels everyone is against him.”
“I’ll invite him over for dinner more often. I’ll even pick him up so he won’t have any excuses. Let me get with Emm. Most of the important people in his life live at Tremont. If you don’t mind us using your loft, we can do a nice dinner there.”
Brian didn’t have to think long about Ted’s suggestion; he thought it was a good one.
“You and Emm have my keys, go and make magic,” Brian instructed.
Ted smiled. “I’ll let you know the arrangements,” Ted said as he was about to leave Brian’s office.
“My coat.” Ted looked down and realized his was still holding Brian’s coat. He gave Brian a thin lipped smile as he hung up the coat then scurried out the door.
Bree wandered into the sun porch and looked out. The sun was shining and the mucky snow piles were almost gone. A couple of warm days and spring seemed to be here. Bree wanted to go out and feel the sun on her face, but she wanted someone to go with.
"Patrick?" Bree called as she headed to the Anderson-Morrison side of the conjoined cottages.
"In here," Patrick called from his bedroom.
"Want to come to the Thinking Rock with me?" Bree asked batting her eyelashes.
Patrick didn't even look up from his desk where he was writing frantically. "Can't," was the only reply Bree got.
Patrick drew in a long breath and looked up. Bree stood in the doorway of his room. He could tell she really wanted him to go with her, but he couldn't. "I'm doing my homework," Patrick explained. "If I get it finished in the next ... ten minutes," he said looking at the clock on his desk, "Dad will take me driving."
"Couldn't you do that tomorrow?" Bree said with a pout.
"I only have two weeks left before I take my driving test. I passed everything in Drivers' Ed, but I really need more practice in the car."
"Oh," Bree said. This wasn't the first time that Patrick had chosen the car over her since he got his learner's permit.
"Sorry, but maybe another time," Patrick said as he turned back to what he had been writing.
Bree shook her head and left the Anderson-Morrison cottage. She went back into the sun porch and looked out again. She would go by herself, she decided. She grabbed her coat, and her gloves just in case it was nippy. She was about to go out when she remembered that her Uncle John was in charge. Her Dada was in Pittsburgh and her Daddy had gone to the grocery store for some things he needed for dinner.
"Uncle John," Bree called.
"Up here," John replied from his office. He came out and stood at the top of the spiral stairs. "And where might you be off to, young lady?" he asked noting the coat and gloves.
"I want to go to the Thinking Rock for a while," Bree explained. "Patrick said he can't come with me, so I'm going to go by myself," she said definitively. "But I thought I better tell you since you're in charge."
"That was a good thought," John agreed. "I'm going to take Patrick out driving in a few minutes. There won't be anyone here."
"I could leave a note for Daddy when he comes back. I won't be too long."
"Okay, write Justin a note and don't stay at the rock for too long. It's still chilly out there."
"Oh, and take Beau with you."
Bree quickly wrote a note telling her father where she was. She propped it up against a mug on the counter.
As she went out the door of the sun porch, she saw Beau lying in a pool of sunlight on the little porch of the Wendy house.
"Beau, you're supposed to come with me," she informed the big dog.
Beau lumbered to his feet. Bree watched realizing what Uncle John had meant when he was talking to her Dada about Beau's arthritis. The big dog wasn't getting any younger. Bree frowned as she started down the path to the Thinking Rock. Beau walked beside her and she sunk her fingers into the ruff around his neck. Beau gave a little growl of satisfaction.
Bree smiled at the reaction of the dog. It was so easy to be kind and make people feel good. She wondered why her Uncle Michael and Uncle Ben couldn't do that for each other. That was one of the things she wanted to think about at her favorite thinking spot.
She also thought about people getting older, just like Beau. She didn't see her Grandma Claire nearly as much. According to Uncle John she had had a hard winter, colds and flu, and maybe some other stuff. Her Grandma Debbie was also getting old. She never made as much food as she used to, but that was okay because they never ate all she brought anyway. Grandpa Carl was slowing down too. And then there was Mr. Riley's partner, Mr. Danny. She knew Danny was Uncle Michael's real father, but they never seemed to get together. Bree always asked Riley about Danny when he came to give her piano lessons. Apparently it had been a hard winter for Danny too.
That made her think about her Gamma Joan. She still missed her ... a lot. She heaved a sigh as she came to the clearing where the Thinking Rock was located.
"Oh no," she said out loud. The rock was occupied.
"I heard that," the person on the rock said.
"I can leave," Bree stated, "if you want your privacy."
"I think I've had more than enough privacy lately," Ben said as he turned to her and smiled. "Come join me ... if you don't mind having company."
"I don't mind at all," Bree said with one of her sunny smiles. "I wanted Patrick to come with me, but he just wants to go out driving with his dad."
"Imagine that! Choosing a car over a beautiful young lady."
Bree giggled as she climbed up on the rock beside Ben. Beau laid down at the base of the rock.
"So," Ben said, "you needed some thinking time?"
"What do you need to think about?"
"I mostly wanted some fresh air. I'm really sick of winter."
"But Uncle John told me to take Beau with me. I realized Beau has arthritis. He has trouble standing up sometimes. It got me thinking about getting older."
"You're not planning on getting arthritis, are you?" Ben joked.
"No, silly," Bree laughed then her face clouded over. "At least not any time soon. But we can't stop getting older and sometimes illness and weakness comes with that."
"Wow, you weren't kidding; you have been thinking about what getting older means."
"I realized how little we saw of Grandma Claire this winter. She was sick quite a bit. It was a hard winter for her and Mr. Danny, and even Grandma Debbie and Grandpa Carl."
"You know, you're right. I should try to help some of those people more, not be so wrapped up in myself," Ben admitted.
"Uncle Michael should do that too." Bree saw Ben wince at her words. She should be careful what she said to him.
"Yes, I wish Michael would. You know Debbie always said what a big heart her son had, and I thought so too."
"But not so much anymore?" Bree asked softly.
Ben nodded his head reluctantly. That was a big part of what was wrong with their relationship. Michael seemed to have little time for JR, except at the store, or for Hunter. He had little time for anyone except himself.
"Is there anything we can do to make him see that people need him and want him to be part of their lives?"
"I don't think Michael believes that the family really wants him to be part of their lives anymore," Ben said sadly.
"Why is everybody sad and worried then?" Bree asked.
"Michael doesn't see that."
"He should," Bree declared.
Ben gave her a wry smile. "Listen, I wish you wouldn't worry. This is up to Michael and me to fix."
"But can you?"
"Honestly, I don't know."
"I was afraid you were going to say that. I want everyone to be happy."
"That's a lovely thought, but no one is happy all the time," Ben reminded her.
"They should be."
Ben chuckled. "If only..."
Bree leaned back on the rock and looked up at the sky. "I guess I should go back," she said after a minute. "My Daddy should be back with his groceries."
"I should probably go home too ... to the log cabin, I mean."
"I got that," Bree said as she slid off the rock. "You ready Beau?"
The big dog got slowly to his feet and stood beside her as they waited for Ben to get off the rock.
"I just thought of something," Bree said as they entered the path leading back to the lane.
"And what might that be?"
"Mr. Danny is Uncle Michael's father, right?"
"Yes, he is. Why?"
"Could he talk to Uncle Michael?"
"Hm," Ben responded. "That is a thought, but I'm not hopeful that anyone can get through to Michael at this point."
"But it might be worth a try?" Bree asked hopefully.
"It might. Maybe I should talk to Debbie about it."
"That sounds good," Bree said burying her hand in Beau's ruff and eliciting the same happy growl she had garnered before. She smiled to herself, feeling that she might have helped in some small way.
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